I am delighted to have the opportunity to be involved in this discussion exploring potential solutions to the challenges we are facing following the UK's withdrawal from the EU. I am accompanied today by Mr. John Greer, director with responsibility for assessing applications and monitoring projects. I hope that he will get an opportunity later to outline some details of the funded projects and their activities at this time. We always welcome the opportunity to report on the progress and impact of our cross-border EU funding programmes, PEACE IV and INTERREG VA, which are worth €0.5 billion and will run until 2022. It is a good news story in terms of these programmes. I am sure Members are familiar with them. In line with the topic to be addressed here today, I will confine my comments to the context of those EU funding programmes.
It is important to mention at the outset the significance the EU funding has had in the region over the last 20 years. Funding has played a crucial role in addressing social, economic and cross-border challenges and cannot be underestimated. The value alone of the funding does not reflect the impact it has had. The impact of Brexit and possible loss of funding is a matter of great concern to many hundreds of thousands of people who are directly and indirectly benefitting from the PEACE and INTERREG programmes across the region. It is an issue that has come up many times in conversation over the last few months. I draw the attention of Members to annex 1 attached to my statement which provides some historic overview, including a number of the most significant benefits from both programmes.
I would like now to briefly outline a number of the challenges that we have identified in relation to managing the EU funding in the region. The most significant challenge we face is the uncertainty surrounding future funding, post-2022, when the UK leaves the EU. However, with regard to current funding programmes, we have also identified some practical challenges over the next few years. The funding for the current programmes has been, as much as possible, Brexit-proofed in relation to the UK's share of the funding within the programmes. This was provided by way of an assurance from the Treasury in October last. All projects that are approved before an exit date will have their funding assured. We are in the business of ensuring that as many projects as possible will be funded before that time. The practical implications of the UK leaving the EU on the activity delivered by the projects is as yet uncertain but we will continue to monitor that into the future. We will be running a series of evaluations and engagements with projects and stakeholders to ensure that the activity they have planned to deliver and are undertaking is not hindered in any way at the time of Brexit. These stakeholders also had plans and ambitions for future activity post the funding of their projects and we will also be looking at the how Brexit might impact in that regard.
The European Commission undertook a research project across all European borders to gather evidence relating to funding of cross-border programmes. It identified 37 common obstacles, which Members will be pleased to hear I do not intend to list now, summarised into four key areas. In terms of what could help address some of those obstacles, the research recommended that the best way of overcoming the obstacles that would have the most productive impact in the region was in the areas of competitiveness, such as product innovation and development of cultural and industrial activities and social and human capital, such as education and training activities. I am pleased to report that our programmes will run up to 2022, focused on those areas.
Members will see from the INTERREG VA programme that it is a cross-Border programme worth €283 million, comprising four core objectives in the areas of research and innovation, which is about building business industry relevant research and innovation capacity across the region on a cross-Border basis and will involve engagement with 1,400 SMEs and micro-businesses, aimed at developing their new products and processes in tradeable services.
There are environmental initiatives in the areas of protected habitats, water management and sustainable transport. There is also a significant amount of money, €63 million, in cross-Border health and social care, which will target more than 30,000 people.
The PEACE IV programme is worth over €270 million. I imagine that most of you are aware of the PEACE programme and its objectives. It was the EU assistance to help address the peace and reconciliation needs of the region. The Irish Government played a pivotal role in securing this PEACE IV programme, which we are now implementing.
There are four core themes in that programme the first of which is shared education, which involves direct, sustained, curriculum-based contact between pupils and teachers from all backgrounds on a cross-Border basis with the aim of promoting good relations. Second, €37 million was allocated directly to the area of children and young people in trying to ensure that we improve the capacity of those young people to have positive and effective relationships with others from different backgrounds. Third, shared spaces and capital involves eight capital projects with the objective of creating a more cohesive society and changing attitudes and behaviours in the area. This also covers victims and survivors. We have €17 million allocated to this theme and it will add investment to cross-Border health and well-being services that develop proven expertise within the region. Initiatives to address local needs will be delivered directly through local councils and almost a third of the programme has been directly allocated to the local authorities across Northern Ireland and the Border region. They all have individual plans and allocations, addressing the areas of shared spaces and services, children and young people and building positive relations. Finally, the fourth core theme is the building of positive relations at a regional level. This objective is to support groups impacted by the legacy of the conflict and this support will, we hope, be used to fund up to 20 projects at regional level.
There is a high level of interest in these programmes. The INTERREG programme is about 90% committed at this stage and the letters of offer have been issued. The PEACE programme is about 45% committed. We are also assessing all aspects of the PEACE programme with the view to having that programme 90% to 100% committed by the end of September.
One possible solution to the challenges surrounding the loss of EU funding is to take every opportunity to obtain access to EU cross-Border programmes in the future. The EU, the Irish Government and the UK Government have all put Northern Ireland and Border issues at the top of their agenda. Each has reaffirmed its commitment to safeguarding the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. There is good will for solutions to be found and we in SEUPB are in a unique position enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. We have much experience of working at intergovernmental, regional and local level, developing programmes and looking at the needs of the region. With regard to the EU itself, there are precedents across the Union of programmes that currently involve a non-EU country. The committee will all have heard about Norway and Sweden. There are also other programmes ranging from Russia to Andorra and for the accession countries, so the EU already has that facility in place. It also has tools in place such as integrated investment tools for regional policy. We therefore believe there are opportunities and precedents in place and consequently, if there is political will and a financial way, there are opportunities we should be seizing at this moment.
Some reasons non-EU countries get involved with EU countries are really quite straightforward. For some it has to do with the geography of the border region and their wish for integrated development between the neighbouring lands. The programmes become a valued part of the regional policy approaches and create access to centres of innovation, such as universities, which allow for exchange of knowledge. While those precedents exist, however, I believe that Northern Ireland and the Border region of Ireland require a unique, bespoke solution because much of that cross-Border work has been under way for 20 years. As we are now going into a different situation, it is important that we have our own bespoke and unique solution. The PEACE programme was itself a unique solution because there is no other PEACE programme in the whole of Europe. We have the precedent and we should seize that opportunity. Most of the sectors that are going to be affected by Brexit are actually already included in PEACE and INTERREG. We cover a wide range of sectors. Future programmes should include the best of those aspects - all of those aspects - because one cannot have a peace programme without the harder economic aspects the INTERREG programme brings. The programme should have the best of both to help create a Brexit bridge across that Border. Timing is critical, however, because the European Commission is already working on its future, post-2020 programmes. As it is also looking at the regulations and how they will be modified, timing is critical to ensure that nothing is done to those regulations or in the drafting of those future programmes that could exclude an opportunity that we may have in the future.